Guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela bring their acclaimed music to Louisville

Contributing Music columnist,by walter tunisAugust 7, 2014 

Gabriela Quintero and Rodrigo Sanchez, aka Rodrigo y Gabriela

PHOTOGRAPHER: JIM MIMNA

  • The week that was

    Jerry Douglas at The KCD Theater in Louisville: After winding his way through a typically stunning solo dobro medley that culminated with the wistful Duane Allman classic Little Martha and a clever bit of live looping that provided invisible accompaniment, Jerry Douglas brought out his band and was set for serious business. That's when the fun really started.

    No sooner did drummer Doug Belote kick off the Southern fried fusion of We Hide and Seek than the multi-Grammy winning instrumentalist dropped his pick into the base of the dobro. Instead of panicking or taking a quick time out to regroup, Douglas flashed a broad grin, shrugged his shoulders and plowed right into the tune's blend of reflective lyricism and barnyard groove. After a hearty round of soloing, Douglas shook his instrument from every angle until the pick fell out. That bit of onstage utensil retrieval earned the dobroist his first ovation of the evening.

    Unlike his Lexington concert in November, which was devoted to solo dobro music, this Louisville outing showcased a quartet that efficiently brought to life many of the stylistic personalities that have long coexisted within Douglas' playing.

    For the jazzers, there was a remarkably faithful version of Joe Zawinul's A Remark You Made, for which Douglas used the dobro to rethink the lead melody introduced by saxophonist Wayne Shorter on the song's original 1977 version by Weather Report. Or at least that's what happened until the musical pecking order for the band was playfully reshuffled as the song progressed.

    Those preferring something earthier were able to indulge in a pair of Celtic-flavored reveries (the Douglas originals Gone to Fortingall and Sir Aly B), a prime slice of new grass fun (Edgar Meyer's Unfolding) and a bit of rootsy Crescent City-style party music (Leadbelly's On a Monday).

    There was even an electric adventure that bordered on rock 'n' roll. On a reworked version of So Here We Are, a trio piece from his 2012 album Traveler, Douglas plugged into lap steel guitar and jammed away on an amped-up romp still rooted in the dobro's wily, wiry aesthetics.

Rodrigo y Gabriela, Heather Maloney

7:30 p.m. Sunday at Iroquois Amphitheater, 1080 Amphitheater Rd. in Louisville. $35-$40. (502) 368-5865. Iroquoisamphitheater.com.

"My fingers are bleeding," David Letterman shouted last week near the end of the Tuesday taping of The Late Show. No, the soon-to-retire comedian wasn't making a joke at his or anyone else's expense. The exclamation was simply the most immediate response he could offer to the four preceding minutes that Rodrigo y Gabriela used to tear through The Soundmaker, the leadoff tune to the guitar duo's newest and arguably finest album, 9 Dead Alive.

Letterman needn't have sounded so surprised by the remarkable contrasts in the music — specifically, the way it stresses dramatically textured compositions with a joyous performance profile as well as its blending of seemingly disparate elements of classical and flamenco with accents of metal and arena rock. After all, it was on The Late Show that Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero made their network television debut in 2008.

The success story of Rodrigo y Gabriela — Rod y Gab, to their fans — is as unlikely as their music. Natives of Mexico City, they initially became infatuated with guitar music by playing thrash metal and soaking up albums by Megadeth and early Metallica. The duo modified the music's volume but not its aggressive spirit into a double acoustic guitar format. While Mexican hotel lounges were among their first concert bookings, the two honed their sound, which began taking on elements of folk and classical, while busking on the streets of Dublin, Ireland. An international buzz ensued.

A clear but complementary distinction began to take shape as well with the performance styles and responsibilities of Rodrigo y Gabriela.

Sanchez handles the leads with a fingerpicking technique that can summon the drive for the anthemic rock explorations (the duo covered Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven and Metallica's Orion on its self-titled sophomore album in 2006) along with the finesse necessary to convey the more reflective construction of its Mexican/Spanish- leaning works (represented beautifully on 9 Dead Alive by Somnium).

Quintero gives the duo's music its pulse. Predominantly a rhythm player, she essentially doubles as a percussionist by slapping the strings on her instrument as if it were a hand drum. The style has come with a cost, though. The duo curtailed touring for a time beginning in 2010 to give Quintero's hands time to heal from stress injuries.

Released in April, 9 Dead Alive is a return to form for Rodrigo y Gabriela. Though promoted as its first album in five years, the players collaborated with the Cuban ensemble C.U.B.A. for the salsa-inspired Area 52 in 2012. Also, the duo's third concert record in seven years, Live in France, as well as contributions to Hans Zimmer's score for Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides, were released within two months of each other in 2011. The duo's last official studio effort, 2009's 11:11 sported help from guests who included metal/jazz guitarist Alex Skolnick.

But 9 Dead Alive shunts aside collaborations in favor of music composed, produced and performed exclusively by the duo. While traces of the players' metal-esque pasts surface in the rhythms of The Russian Messenger, the record uses double guitar acoustics to explore the duo's most comprehensive overview of Latin fusion inspirations — from the breezy flamenco accents colored with almost poppish intent on Misty Moses to the speed, groove and sheer drama that made Letterman feel as though his own fingers were bleeding on The Soundmaker.

Rodrigo y Gabriela will place all of this under the summer twilight with a Sunday performance at Iroquois Amphitheater in Louisville. Singer- songwriter Heather Maloney will open.

Walter Tunis is a Lexington-based music writer.

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